Friday, March 30, 2007

Midnight Company.

I often find myself in arguments with people about the behavior of American soldiers when they search homes and many of the people I talk to base their argument and negative impression on the footage of some raids we see on TV or on experiences of presumed relatives or friends.

When I try to counter the idea of 'they knock down doors unnecessarily, steal jewelry and treat people bad' by saying that there must be a good reason the troops sometimes act rough and that 'for every reaxction there must have been an action' I often get the response of "what do you know about that? The Americans never searched your home"

Well, last night they did…

It was around midnight and we were gathered around the fire in the backyard when we heard someone talking in English in the street.
Go see what that was, Mohammed told me.
I approached the front door and peeked into the street, a number of Humvees were there.
I returned to the group and told them we might have some company.

Almost every Friday night we gather with some friends for drinks and barbeque and we all take turns hosting the nights. Yesterday it was our turn.

I went to the living room where my father was having a heated political debate with his friend and told them the house would likely be searched. The two men stopped talking, looked at me carelessly for a second and then resumed their loud debate.

I went back to tend the fish we were preparing for our Masgoof dinner and then heard the front door open and a flashlight beamed into the driveway.
I walked to meet the night visitors; 6 or 7 American soldiers and an Iraqi translator wearing a black ski mask walked in.

Good evening gentlemen, how can I help you?

Hi, that's a lot of cars you got here! Are they all yours? The lead soldier said, obviously suspicious about the number of cars we had in the driveway.

That one is ours, the rest belong to our friends. And explained that we had guests and that in order to avoid the curfew they are spending the night here.

As was speaking two of the soldiers were using the lights on their rifles to look through the glass into the cars.

Who are those people back there?

Those are our friends and my brothers, I said as I lead the way into the back yard.

The Iraqis and Americans exchanged words of greetings.

The soldiers now began to feel a bit relaxed seeing the relaxed friendly mood, the barbeque and the drinks in Iraqis' hands.

That's a large fish! Looks good! One soldier noted.

There's enough food and drinks for all of us here, please join us, said one of my friends.

Nah, we can't do that. Thanks anyway.

We know the Americans were on duty and had a job to do so we didn't repeat the offer violating the tribal Iraqi tradition of persistently offering food.

One of the soldiers asked for the keys to the cars and he and his colleague started checking them one after the other.
I lead three others into the house showing them the rooms explaining what each one was.
When we entered the living room they were surprised to see 4 laptops scattered around.

What are these for?

One's mine, the other is my brother's and the rest are our friends', I said and explained that our friends always bring their laptops with them when they come because they can use our wireless.
My brother and I are bloggers, our friends work in the computers business, I added.
Ah, you got wireless! I should bring my laptop too next time I come here, one of the soldiers joked.

We went up to the second floor, then the roof and they looked around around, opened a few drawers, asked if we had any weapons. I told them we didn't have any.

That's fine, no problem.

Within roughly 20 minutes the soldiers had completed searching the house and by now they seemed convinced that this household is 'clean'. So we all went back to the back yard and gathered around the tasty-smelling fish and we all had some short friendly talk about food, booze, the city, the war, the internet, etc.

At the end we stood to take some pictures together.

These are bloggers dude, cover your face if you don't want to be seen nude on the internet tomorrow! One soldier said to his colleague as I snapped this photo, and we all chuckled.

And I know what you're thinking; Mohammed and I do not appear in this one.

The Americans and Iraqis shook hands and exchanged take care's and stay safe's.
They went on to continue their patrol, and we went back to our fish.
Some of us will definitely have a joke or a short story to tell from this night, I thought.

I realize that for some other Iraqis having their homes searched wasn't as smooth or as pleasant an experience as ours but this is my story and I thought I'd share it.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Quoted and Proud!

I would like to say a few words to the new visitors who are not so familiar with this blog. I have noticed that our traffic nearly tripled today and that most of the extra traffic is coming from pages talking about the recent speech by President Bush in which he mentioned a quote from our March 5 article on the WSJ…New visitors, welcome to ITM!

First of all we're proud of it. It's the ultimate ambition for a political blogger to have his or her words heard and better reach the desks of decision-makers.

Second I would like to make clear one point to bloggers like dailykos and some MSM supported blogs who seem so upset for some reason that the voice of some Iraqis is being heard.
I've seen some of them publish stories full of lies and accusations they can't support and I think it's pathetic to throw the "you're a sold-out propaganda" accusation at people just because they don't share the same point of view…This only reflects their lack of knowledge and the bankruptcy of ideas they suffer.

We speak the language of facts, supported by images and statistics and more important, we live here while they don't. We write about the good days as well as the bad days in Iraq's journey to a better future.
You don't even have to search in this blog's archives, just scroll down this page and you'll see both good and bad news—we witness an explosion and we write about it and we see progress and we write about it.
If they can't see that it's their problem, not ours.

I invite them to come visit my town, see what I see, compare it with what I write and then they can say whatever they like.

Now excuse me, it's Thursday and I have barbeque and cold beers waiting for me.

Regular blogging resumes tomorrow.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A plateau for now, but more action is in the air.

A US Predator UAV conducts an air surveillance mission over Baghdad in support of operation Imposing Law

Little has changed in Baghdad since the last Imposing Law update we made a week ago. After the first month of the operation in which we saw dramatic developments, things in Baghdad seem to have reached some kind of plateau.
Still there were some interesting bits of news today, with both political and operational significance.

Ahmed Farhan Hassan has been captured. This operative is described as a senior aide to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi the leader of al-Qaeda’s so-called Islamic State in Iraq. That would make him a reasonably big fish, one from which, it would seem, good intelligence can be extracted.

Local Iraqi TV aired recorded confessions of Ahmed Farhan Hassan. Hassan, who was captured in Abu Ghraib west of Baghdad a few days ago, spoke about his connection to al-Baghdadai, and I’m paraphrasing:
“I have four emirs operating under my command. I receive money directly from Abu Omar and then I distribute it among the members of my units according to the number and size of operations they carry out.”
Quoting Iraqi military officials, the TV report added that Hassan admitted to have been responsible for some 300 murders and about 200 kidnapping incidents since he joined al-Qaeda three years ago.

Overall, the security operation continues to gain more support among the political parties, including some that were skeptical in the beginning out of fear the operation would not be impartial. Today a spokesman of the Accord Front, to which VP Hashimi and deputy PM Zobaie belong, affirmed the AF’s support for the ongoing operation saying, “Our bloc, seeing the security forces covering Baghdad’s districts and operating without discrimination, is now convinced that the operation is unbiased.”

On the other hand extremist parties of both sects continue their criticism of the operation, in stupid and somewhat amusing ways. One case I found funny is related to the recent discovery of a large weapon cache that included 470 anti-tank land-mines in Jameela district near Sadr city. The discovery of the stash was reported by MNF-I website, as well as Qasim Ata the official spokesman of Baghdad operations.
Neither report accused a specific entity of being responsible for possessing the cache, but then I saw the Sadrist lawmakers (I mean lawbreakers) on TV gather reporters to tell them that the whole story about finding weapons is a lie!
It was a textbook example of how denying involvement in a crime can only make people believe that you are indeed responsible.

Last but not least, there are now rumors that major operations will be launched soon on the outskirts of Baghdad to extend Imposing Law to adjacent provinces. This according to al-Sabah citing anonymous sources:
“Commanders of Baghdad operations will attempt to clear and seal the circle around Baghdad to prepare for directing military effort toward adjacent provinces where militants who fled Baghdad sought safe havens. Sealing the circle around the capital means starting a massive offensive on militant hideouts in Anbar and Diyala provinces in the first major effort to extend Imposing Law beyond Baghdad”

This expanded offensive, the report says, will begin pretty soon. We shall see.


Looks like a second big fish has been captured! A terror cell responsible for bombings that killed and injured nearly three thousand Iraqi civilians is now in custody.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The real front in the war on terror.

"When The Taliban regime in Afghanistan fell young men waited in lines to get a haircut and when Saddam fell barbers became targets."
My father offered this simple example during a discussion we had about war on terror the other day. Although the example is very simple but the idea behind it is deep and aims at identifying the change of the main battleground for war with terror.

I wanted to talk about this because recently we've been watching the debate in America about redeployment of troops and identifying the real front we must focus on.
I see that al-Qaeda and terrorists in general didn't hide their position in this respect—despite the fact that they still operate in many parts of the world, they are clearly redirecting most effort and resources to the war in Iraq.
The war here has a lot that to do with drawing the future prospects of spreading religious extremism and this in turn is connected to the agendas of countries that have mutual goals with al-Qaeda in spite of the difference in ideology. This collaboration is complex but it clearly shows the priorities of the terrorists and rogue regimes and in turn suggests what our strategic priorities should be.

There are greater examples than killing barbers of course so I'd like to include some more to remind those who try to naively oversimplify the issue in the context that the commanders of al-Qaeda are hiding in a cave in the mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan far away from civilization.

Al-Qaeda and its supporters are using most of the capabilities of their propaganda machine to cover their effort in Iraq, and so is the case with financial resources. All evidences indicate that most of the money is used to support the terror activity in Iraq.
Let's not forget recruiting networks that are discovered constantly in many European and Arab countries; we rarely, if ever, hear that those networks were sending recruits to Afghanistan because recruits are being sent to Iraq all the time. Even more telling, some of the prominent lieutenants of al-Qaeda left Afghanistan to fight in Iraq. One example I remember was Omar al-Farouk who escaped from Bagram to be later captured in Basra!

Al-Qaeda itself boasts about the great "sacrifices" of more than 4,000 "martyrs" to emphasize the importance of the war here. And the hundreds of suicide bombers preferred to blow themselves up in Iraq than anywhere else should remind us that if al-Qaeda considers this the main war then why talk about redeployment?
Walking away from the main war is not redeployment, it's quitting.

But why Iraq became the main front?

Iraq can simply not be equated with Afghanistan which the bulk of al-Qaeda largely abandoned after few weeks of battles—that doesn't sound like al-Qaeda!

Iraq, weak after a war that toppled the regime but rich-relatively-with resources and scientific base is a greater temptation than Afghanistan, and at the same time the possibility of a democracy arising in Iraq posed a great threat to the ideology of caliph state. Therefore al-Qaeda and whoever is backing it directly or indirectly felt they had to move the front to Iraq instead of staying in Afghanistan.
Let's imagine that the world left Iraq alone before the country is able to defend itself and let it fall in the hands of extremists, what would happen then?

Can we compare the opium fields with the massive oilfields of Mesopotamia? Can we afford to leave these resources in the service of the terrorists?

The other point is scientific infrastructure, especially when it comes to military technology such infrastructure almost doesn't exist in Afghanistan while Saddam celebrated 17 years ago in launching a rocket to space. The same "accomplishment' Iran claimed to have made just days ago.
This infrastructure, while still humble compared to advanced countries, could be very dangerous if captured by terrorists.

An Islamic state in Iraq whether to be led by al-Qaeda or one of the local extreme religious parties would be an enormous threat to the security of the region and the world and a turning point that might encourage fence-sitters to join the terrorists…the tide would be much more difficult to stop then.

It's true that what's happening in Iraq doesn't meet the ambitions of Iraqis or Americans and everyone admits that many mistakes were made.
I agree that the Iraqi government should be pressed to speed up the effort to establish rule of law and achieve reconciliation. And I also agree that the American administration needs to revise the way it's been handling and planning for this critical war.
But abandoning this front or failing to recognize its priority is a terrible mistake that can lead to disastrous consequences to all of us.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The future of an Islamic state in Iraq.

Politicians, pundits and observers differ in their assessment as to what faction poses the greatest threat in Iraq; some, including the pentagon put the Mehdi Army on top of the list while others believe it's al-Qaeda.
Who is number one is not really the most important point because both groups are almost equally extremely dangerous and both had already caused so much mess and cost Iraq and America a heavy price in blood, treasure and precious time. Both need to be dealt with.

I think it's important to note that since any kind of theocratic rule in Iraq is a threat then it would make sense to add a third group which is religious political parties both Sunni or Shia. While the former two groups are so radical that they can't be reasoned with the third is relatively open to dialogue and when not under pressure from their radical counterparts, diplomacy and negotiations can play a role in reaching a solution.

In fact the correlation between the two main extremist groups is some sort of catch 22, though it really isn't. it might be believed that the attacks of al-Qaeda led to retaliation from the Mehdi army and at the same time that the attacks of Mehdi army's death squads left many Sunni with no choice but to seek protection under the umbrella of al-Qaeda; as if the two militant groups were enemies, while there's good evidence that they work jointly at some level to escalate the violence in Iraq.

We had said many times that Iraq's neighbors support both groups and since the most involved neighbors Syria and Iran are closest allies with mutual goals in Iraq, then there's a lot of reasons to believe that the two surrogates are receiving orders from the same top of the pyramid of the chain of command of the Tehran-Damascus axis. What I'm trying to say here is that when either wing is weakened, the whole structure of the evil plot of the bad neighbors is directly affected. And that any progress for Iraq and America at either front would be progress toward ultimately neutralizing both.

Nearly five weeks into operation Imposing Law in Baghdad the movement of the Mehdi Army has been largely restrained and its coercion and arm-twisting capacity is at least temporarily contained and with a policy of sustained pressure this threat can be drastically reduce. But what has it been like lately for the plans of al-Qaeda et al in establishing the core of a radical Islamist terror state in Iraq?
The "Islamic State in Iraq" a branch of al-Qaeda has been dealt several good blows recently in the same city they were planning to announce as the first capital of their state.

For four years since the liberation of Iraq Anbar remained distant from the rest of the country, defiant to the central government and a dangerous place for everyone including its own sons…this is slowly, yet clearly, changing now.
For a few months after more than two dozens of tribes formed the "Anbar Awakening Council" not much success was reported but recently there's been a constant stream of reports on battles between the tribes and al-Qaeda in several towns and villages across the vast western province; in most cases the tribes came out triumphant but sacrifices were also made.

The restive province is finally coming back into the arms of the state.

While I wouldn't take any poll results to be accurate assessment of the public attitude, they are useful in determining the general direction of changes in attitude among the population.

Recently there were two separately conducted polls in the news, and the results were contradictory to each other in more than one point which is not surprising at all but one item of the poll conducted for the BBC and ABC that caught my attention.
The poll shows that only about 4% of the Sunni are in favor of an Islamic rule. This is interesting and worth noting even if the error margin for this one was three times what the pollsters claimed, which is somewhat unlikely for an error margin. This extremely low approval rate is understandable given all what the Sunni had suffered under the extremists who touted the idea of Islamic rule in the Sunni areas for four years.

The city that at some point was about to become the new Talibanistan is now working hand in hand with the government in Baghdad and the coalition forces to defeat al-Qaeda. Maliki's and Petraeus's visit to the province were not only of symbolic value. The visit and the meeting with the heads of tribes marked the beginning of the return of the once stray province to where it belongs.

The clash between the tribe and the mosque was inevitable. For centuries and since the early days of Islam the two institutions squabbled for power and dominance and while tribe sheiks are diplomats by nature and always seek to resole conflicts and find compromises between the two sides of a conflict, clerics, especially extreme ones, do not recognize the idea of compromise; to them there is halal and haram (or allowed and forbidden) with absolutely no gray area in between whatsoever.
Iraq and the western part in particular is a very tribal community and so the increased influence and interference of clerics became a serious threat to the position of sheiks.
Sheiks are more businessmen than ideological leaders, like my tribe's sheik put it once "the hell with them [clerics] we want to live like normal people and all they care about is death".

By no means I'm trying to say that al-Qaeda is defeated. This is still far away but we can say that the in order for al-Qaeda to continue its plan to establish a safe haven in Iraq it will have to search for alternatives to Anbar. Their primary alternative is Diyala where demographics are already not as favorable for al-Qaeda as Anbar was.

There are signs that the tribes in Diyala too are changing their attitude and there are signs that they are slowly following the steps of their peers in Anbar. If this change is encouraged and supported al-Qaeda will not have many, if any, good alternative plans.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

This one was close.

I was on my way home from downtown Baghdad and as usual I took the 'Mohammed al-Qasim' highway which is the fastest connection and most reliable road that runs across Baghdad from north to south.

Just before reaching my exit I found that the army had closed the highway and saw American soldiers nearby. First I thought it was a routine security operation or a new checkpoint.

I and the dozens of drivers around me were expecting traffic to reopen at any minute but then happened what we didn't expect; a massive explosion rocked the area and huge plumes of smoke rose high in the sky.
It took more than a few seconds to collect my thoughts realize what happened…looks like we just had a controlled detonation.

The smoke obscured the scene that it took another minute till I could see where the smoke was coming from. It was the beautiful building of the finance ministry.

The damage as you can see is tragic and even worse the explosion caused part of the highway bridge on the other side to collapse to the ground.
This building is an icon of this city; I knew it for many years and I pass by it almost every day. I even wrote two years ago on how it was reconstructed after it was looted and set on fire in 2003.

Watching that building in ruins again is painfully sad, but we shall rebuild it again.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tribes and police kill 39 terrorists in Anbar.

The Al-bu Issa tribes in Amiriyat al-Fallujah backed by local police and the MNF clashed with members of the l-Qaeda linked "Islamic State in Iraq" terror organization today, according to al-Hurra TV.

The tribe involved in the clashes has opposed al-Qaeda for months now and is part of the Awakening Council.
The battles that are still ongoing have so far left 39 terrorists killed including the “ministers of oil and war” of the terror organization. Six policemen and 11 tribal fighters were also killed during the fighting.

The report adds that US troops found and securely detonated a tanker filled with chlorine gas the terrorists were planning to use in chemical attacks on the area.
Meanwhile, a police force of 500, conducting raids in northern and central parts of Ramadi, captured weapons and bomb-making material, and arrested dozens of suspects.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Checkpoint and double checkpoint.

STOP! Official Checkpoint By orders of the Prime Minister and Commander of Baghdad Operations Checkpoint No. 4 Sector No. 6

A sign similar to this one greets you at all fixed checkpoints in Baghdad. These words authenticate the legitimacy of the checkpoint and emphasize who’s in charge in this or that area.

With the constant force buildup many streets now host multiple checkpoints, both fixed and mobile. All are positioned in a manner that allows soldiers in one to have visual contact with those in the next one.

As the operations continue, the interior ministry is introducing new identification measures for vehicles used by its personnel. The new armored vehicles are unique and leave no room for confusion, while the SUV’s are getting new light-green paint with the words ‘National Police’ well visible on the sides.

From my personal experience I can tell that the men staffing the checkpoints do not take their job lightly. One can feel that a long month of hard work did not exhaust them, and I am awed by the courage of those soldiers and policemen. In a city which has absorbed more suicide bombings than all other cities in the world combined every passing vehicle or motorcycle is a threat.
I can’t imagine myself in a position where my job requires I open dozens of trunks every day and each one of those moments might be the end of my life and those of the people around me. The physical and psychological pressure is enormous, yet those brave men continue to be our shield.

I was listening to the radio this morning and the first headline was ‘Policeman killed in an explosion south of Baghdad’. The story later explains that ‘south of Baghdad’ actually meant Babil. Babil is actually 60 miles away from Baghdad. The misleading headline underscored again how most media try to associate every piece of bad news with Baghdad to maintain the image of violence associated with the city.
No doubt people who follow the news as it is being reported in the West get the impression that we’re fighting a lost war, and I feel that there won’t be a day when our struggle to live a normal life and what we achieve in this path will make headlines that run above those of death.

You look around in Baghdad now and see hundreds of men working in the streets to pick up garbage; to plant flowers and paint the blast walls in joyful colors. Many of Baghdad’s squares are becoming green and clean. The picture isn’t perfect, but it’s a clear attempt to beat violence and ease pain through giving the spring a chance to shine.

Nights in Baghdad now are far from quiet, but the sounds cause less anxiety for me than they did before. I recognize the rumble of armor and thump of guns and they assure me that the gangs and militias do not dominate the night as they once did.
When an Arabs or westerners ask me about the situation and I answer that hope remains and that we’re looking forward to a better future most would say ‘Are you living in this world?’ I answer, ‘Yes, it’s you who live in the parallel world the media built for you with images of only death and destruction’.

If it surprised some of them that a poll found Iraqis optimistic, then I’m surprised that someone finally bothered to ask Iraqis how they feel.
Just as free birds would never return to the cage, we don’t want to return to the days of the tyrant. Birds do not care that beasts roam outside and would not feel nostalgic for a home or meal mixed with humiliation.
All that a free bird cares about is to spread wings and fly as it pleases.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

One thing al-Qaeda excels at; making new enemies.

With this series of dirty chemical bombings a war between al-Qaeda and the tribes in Anbar is no longer a possibility. It just became a fact.

I've read at least two very optimistic reports from al-Almada in the last week about purported victories of the tribes and police over al-Qaeda in Ramadi and Fallujah. I was reluctant to trust the accuracy of the reports which sited unnamed sources but now seeing the reaction of al-Qaeda suggests that the action of the tribes was so painful that al-Qaeda retaliated in the way we see today.

Al-Qaeda's terrorists-whom AP insists on calling insurgents-expended three suicide bombers and precious resources against their supposedly sympathetic civilian Sunni hosts instead of American and Iraqi soldiers and Shia civilians; their usual enemies.
If this indicates anything it indicates that al-Qaeda's is reprioritizing the targets on the hit list. The reason: al-Qaeda is sensing a serious threat in the change of attitude of the tribes toward them and perhaps the apparently successful meeting of the sheiks with Maliki and the agreements that were made then was the point at which open war had to be declared.

The tribes in Anbar are stubborn and they have many ruthless warriors. That's a proven fact and it looks like Al-Qaeda had just made their gravest mistake—their once best friends are just about to become their worst enemy.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Is Iran’s honeymoon in Iraq over?

Iran’s “project” in Iraq has recently been facing one setback after another. There are an increasing number of signs that the “project’s” prospects for success, for realizing Iran’s ambitions in Iraq, do no point upward anymore. It simply isn’t having much success lately in undermining Iraq’s emerging democracy through politics and force.

In the past Iran has employed several tracks to interfere directly and indirectly in Iraq. The mullahs celebrated several achievements in the project. They rejoiced when pro-Iran powers took over a big part of the Iraqi government.
In this they saw the real chance of a satellite Islamic state in Iraq offering them a strategic extension into the western front. It seemed as if the project of exporting the Islamic revolution designed by ayatollah Khomeini was reaping fruit after decades of planning. The dramatic fall of Arab nationalism in Iraq and the potential transformation of Iraq into a Shia theocratic ally would mean the fall of the last geographic wall between Iran and the allies in Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territory. It would make the dream of Tehran’s dominance in the region a reality.

To achieve this dream Iran was compelled to force the coalition out of Iraq. This was attempted through constant calls for withdrawing coalition troops from Iraq by extremists in the parliament, and through the occasional use of armed forces. All maneuvers designed to push America to despair by creating the dilemma of ‘why help those who shoot at our soldiers and treat us as occupying enemies?’

While Iran couldn’t secure a majority support in Iraq’s political arena, it definitely secured enough clout to impede the secular democratic project. This costly -in lives and treasure - policy could, in the minds of the mullahs, force America to forsake her goals in Iraq.
That, at least, was the plan. But a number of interesting developments in Iraq in the last few weeks may mark the beginning of failure for Iran’s plan. The developments listed here were collected from both large and small stories in local Iraq newspapers. Perhaps none of them are significant alone, but putting the pieces together allows one to sense that a sea change is underway in this country and the tide is moving against Iran.

At last Friday’s ceremony in a major Shia mosque by a senior Shia cleric — in Najaf no less — Tehran’s interference in Iraq was roundly criticized, calling it an interference that “is not in Iraq’s interest.”
Another story notes the withdrawal of the Fadheela Party from the Shia bloc (the UIA). The Fadheela leaders said the reason for breaking away from the UIA was because the UIA didn’t act as a patriotic movement. This step stands as a challenge by the Arabic hierarchy of Yaqoubi (the Ayatollah behind Fadheela) to the Iranian-born Sistani and his hierarchy, combined with a call for nonsectarian political process.

There’s also the month-old and continuing Baghdad security operation, and the apparent determination of PM Maliki to confront and disarm all outlaws — especially those with connections with neighboring countries. In addition, the flight of Sadr and many others from Iraq has also dealt a blow to Iran’s influence in Iraq.

I’m almost certain Maliki’s statement during the conference last Saturday caused disappointment in Tehran. For the first time the head of state didn’t use double standards in addressing Iraq’s neighbors. Iran was addressed in the same tone that Suuni neighbors were addressed. This by the very Shia premier Iran was hoping to make its puppet.

Not only the Shia front recorded setbacks. The Kurds of Iraq are distancing themselves from Iran and flirting with their Saudi opponents. The visit Masoud Barzani (the president of Kurdistan in Iraq) made to the Saudi capital has more or less marked a significant change in Iran’s relationships with Iraq’s Kurds. Especially at a time when the IRGC is threatening to chase down Kurdish rebels on Iraqi soil in Kurdistan. It is highly probable that the visit was to remind Iran that Kurds are at the same time Sunni.

All in all, things are not going the way Khamenie or Nejad were dreaming of just a few months ago. Overall the course of events recently in Iraq indicates the beginning of a severe fall for Iran’s stocks in Iraq.
Of course we shouldn’t expect Iran to just sit back and not respond. I think an escalation in attacks by militias loyal to Iran will take place soon, especially outside Baghdad.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Action follows calm...

The front in Baghdad has been remarkably quiet in the last 48 hours, until about an hour ago when we started to hear many explosions in the distance.

From the increased activity of jetfighters and the way the explosions sound it looks like a wave of aerial bombing is underway somewhere on the peripheries of the city…not sure yet what's going on but we'll provide an update if we find more info.


It's pretty much quiet now but a freind calling from Plaestine Street, just west of Sadr city, says the explosions were very loud in that part of the city...I guess only the morning will reveal what happned tonight.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Why in my garden? I'm not Frodo!

On one cold morning in December I was drinking my coffee in the garden when this ugly object flew two hundred meters from an IED site and landed just next to my feet.
It was still hot when I picked it up from the grass…from the serrations on the broad end and the way it was bent I knew it was part of the base of some artillery shell that was part of the freshly detonated bomb I just heard.

Among the countless various bullets and fragments I've seen and collected over years from three wars this one is, well, my favorite that I still keep it on my desk. Actually it's more like a mixed feeling of despise and amazement that I can't describe well.
As a huge fan of the Lord of The Rings, both the movie and the game-and I'd suspect many would agree with me-I think this is the best accidental representation of the severed finger of Sauron…

It's creepy how an act of evil managed to produce what qualifies for a piece of artwork, only to summon an evil character; one that belongs to a movie though.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Baghdad Conference.

Will tomorrow's conference be a positive contribution to stability in Iraq and to building better relationships with the neighbors and the international community?
Of course that's what we wish to see but it's more about the intentions of the participants than our wishes.

The public opinion here isn't showing a lot of interest in the event and the subject rarely finds its way to common conversations, actually most people do not know who's going to be here for the conference, that, if they are at all aware it's going to be held tomorrow and in Baghdad—people are tired of watching neighboring countries interfering in Iraq almost always against Iraq's interests. Although some tend to focus on the interference from one country and ignore or deny that from another, there's an agreement that harmful interference exist with a general feeling that a conference couldn’t do much for stability.

I personally think that most of those meeting tomorrow will show up just to pretend they are willing to help while common sense suggests they don't—the reality that was born after the change in Iraq represented by toppling a dictatorship and the attempt to build a new state on basis of democracy, rule of law and protecting minority rights is raising deep concerns among some of our neighbors. And perhaps watching the former dictator walk to the gallows for a crime he committed twenty five years ago made them think about how similar their history is to Saddam's and fear for their own heads and wonder what kind of concessions they'd have to make to keep their heads on their shoulders.

What's been going on since 2003 is that most of the neighbors want Iraq to fail and to do that they saw that feeding a proxy war using local surrogates and foreign terrorists was the best strategy to block the tide of change off their doors. In this manner the slower progress is being made in Iraq the longer their regimes can last, so why would anyone think those little tyrants like to see a democratic federal Iraq run by a constitution approved by the people!?

The Israeli-Palestinian issue offers a clear example of the effect of regional interference in the region; the players are almost exactly the same and their policy is pretty much the same as well in both cases.
The conflict is almost sixty years old and the Arab regimes still wouldn't accept Israel's existence. It is wrong to think that this only about disputed rights in land because the conflict is largely due to the nature of Israel's political system and the way of living which differ a lot from those in Arab countries.

Interference from Arab and Muslim countries has always been to keep the conflict alive if not to further complicate it, and the Palestinians themselves weakened their position and lost much by accepting involvement from other Arabs. Even the peace treaties that some had signed with Israel do not seem to reflect sincere interest in long-lasting peace.
Those regimes will keep on meddling in Iraq and the Palestinian territory and they will continue to fund and arm groups of extremists and do anything they can to kill any seeds of democracy.

Like we said many times before, a simple reading of the history of the region tells us to not trust the words of dictators and clerics, for words are inexpensive and clerics and dictators have plenty of words they are willing to use to buy time.

However I do think the Baghdad conference will be significant in another aspect and this would be stressing the reality that Iraq is a state equal to her neighbors and that in Baghdad there is an elected government representative of its people.
Insisting that the conference be in Baghdad and not somewhere else kind of sends a message that Iraq is not anyone's backyard and the government is not a bunch of dissidents living in exile and our neighbors will have to recognize this reality.

It is a sad fact that most of our Shia politicians often blame Syria and Saudi Arabia for violence in the country while remaining silent about Iran and the opposite is true when it comes to most Sunni politicians, so finally I hope that whoever's representing Baghdad in tomorrow's meeting will deal with all of the abusive neighbors equally.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Back to Politics!

The political scene in Iraq these days is registering a level of activity like we haven’t seen since right after the elections, when the blocs squabbled over who got to be the new premier.
Political alliances are being redrawn right now —and three developments are shaping the change and dominating local news headlines at stories of violence’s expense.

A new political bloc has emerged. It’s not a fourth bloc as Mohammed anticipated some time ago; it’s a union of, so far, two existing blocs. The core of the new movement is pretty much the same as what Mohammed expected, though. The Accord Front has announced it has joined the bloc led by former PM Ayad Allawi, forming what they refer to now as the “Iraqi National Front”. This new alliance has 69 seats in parliament and is likely to gain an additional 11 seats if the Dialogue Front of the nationalist Salih al-Mutlaq decides to join in, which is not unlikely.

It’s still not decided who is going to be the leader in the new bloc, and none of the leading figures involved has talked about this yet. However I suspect that this position will be filled by Allawi who, although his group has only 25 out of the 69 seats, was the one who came up with the idea in the first place, and his charisma, history in leadership and his nonsectarian attitude qualify him over the others.

The second development, which is far more significant than the first, just took place in the corridors of the United Iraqi Alliance, the main Shia bloc. This morning, in a frank challenge to ayatollah Sistani’s earlier call for preserving the UIA’s unity, the head of al-Fadheela party -which controls 15 of its 130 seats- declared independence from the Shia bloc and said his team now would act as an independent bloc within parliament.

While al-Fadheela members are talking about working on their own, there are some signs that they are holding behind-the-scenes talks with Allawi and the others; at least one lawmaker from al-Fadheela spoke to the local press about ongoing negotiations to join the new bloc.
Apparently there’s good chance they will indeed join ranks because Fadheela and Allawi’s party share more or less similar nationalistic and nonsectarian views and they know that they will not have enough power do anything if they go alone.

More over, Fadheela, while inside the UIA, did not occupy any post in Maliki’s cabinet, and its leaders probably think that they have a better chance of winning a post or two after the cabinet’s reshuffle if they join the “opposition” block.

Speaking of the reshuffle, it looks like about 10 ministers will be changed -mostly of civil services ministries- of which six are run by ministers from the Sadr movement.

The Sunni and Shia blocs responded in different ways to the planned reshuffle. On the one hand ,the UIA leaderships say they authorize Maliki to act as he sees appropriate in this regard, but the question remains whether the PM will use this authorization and the mounting pressure on the Sadrists to cut them to size and redistribute some of the ministries they control among other blocs. Nothing is for sure so far.

On the other hand, the Accord Front is persistently demanding a change in the defense ministry saying that the post is part of their quota and it should be their call whether to keep the current minister. Very strange indeed, because this minister is one of the very few that has so far shown competence and made remarkable progress in his area of responsibility.
Fortunately, Maliki doesn’t seem interested in replacing his defense minister, according to what a lawmaker close to the PM said to al-Sabah.
Back to the new bloc subject…

This item from al-Sharq al-Awsat implies that Allawi has been contacting at least one of the Kurdish parties, trying to persuade them to side with him:

Fadhil Mirani, member of the political bureau of the KDP of Masoud Barzani, said it was still early to announce our position from this movement; we are waiting for President Barzani to return to discuss the subject and after that we’ll have to talk to the PUK of President Talbani to make a united decision for the best of the Iraqi people” and added “we stand with those who want to build Iraq save the country from this crisis and we will support any effort in this direction”

This could mean that the purpose behind this movement is not limited to stronger opposition but goes further, to a project for building a political power that can outnumber the UIA in parliament. But there’s little reason to think the Kurds would want to be involved in a political confrontation with anyone in Baghdad as long as the interests of Kurdistan are not at stake.
Nothing is impossible in Iraq. Either way, it seems this is going to be interesting.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Street Justice.

As we noted more than once before, Operation “Imposing Law” is an escalating effort with military and political components. After the troops fixed their feet on the streets of Baghdad, PM Maliki and the troops are pushing forward with both components.

Politically, Maliki put an end to speculations about his real intentions of a cabinet reshuffle and announced that the reshuffle is going to happen within two weeks from now.
In his press conference this morning, Maliki also announced that the Supreme Judicial Council will be issuing warrants against a number of politicians and members of parliament who have connections to militant groups that are involved in attacks on civilians and security forces.

Meanwhile Iraqi and American forces are increasing their presence in and around Sadr city. Today hundreds of American and Iraqi solders swept through Jamila district just north of Sadr city. They searched homes and shops without meeting any resistance.

The Mehdi army is not responding to the raids with fire, but they are trying to undermine the security plan by spreading rumors about alleged crimes committed by US soldiers, specifically against the Shia. The latest of these rumors was a ridiculous one I heard yesterday from a taxi driver from Sadr city. His story, quite similar to one told by a Sadr city council member, is that US soldiers are raiding Shia homes, arresting innocent civilians, and then dumping them at night near strongholds of Sunni insurgents, blindfolded and handcuffed so that the insurgents would find them defenseless and slaughter them!


Violent incidents are still decreasing in number and impact in Baghdad. Yesterday for instance the only reported incident was the abduction of an adviser to the minister of defense by gunmen in western Baghdad. It was less than 24 hours until the security forces succeeded in freeing the abducted general and arresting 4 of his captors.

Elsewhere in the capital the troops are using not only guns and Humvees, but also shovels and bulldozers. In areas such as Karrada and Palestine Street Iraqi soldiers and workers of the Baghdad municipal services are working on removing trespasses on public property and irregular roadblocks set by locals at earlier times. The measure sparked anger and dismay among some people whose businesses were damaged because the bulldozers also removed irregular kiosks and stalls.

An Iraqi officer explained the decision yesterday by saying that those illegal roadblocks and trespasses were making it difficult for the troops to quickly reach areas where intervention is needed.
Other law enforcement officials are also getting more serious in doing their job. Traffic cops who would normally stop a suspicious vehicle only if it passed by their post are now riding their motorbikes and chasing suspected vehicles down highways and other streets.

This is an indication that Imposing Law does not mean only sending soldiers to kill terrorists. It is reaching out to deal with other aspects of mess and to counter relatively “benign” violations-like breaking the “odd and even” traffic rule, defensive irregular roadblocks and unlicensed kiosks and stalls-by providing protection for the personnel of civilian departments while they do their job.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Imposing Law enters week III

Operation “Imposing Law” continues in Baghdad. In contrast with previous operations to secure the city, this one is managing to not only keep the initial momentum, but the operation’s effects seem to be growing as well.

A few days ago the government announced a more traffic-related measures to support “Imposing Law” in Baghdad. Under the first order, it will be forbidden to park any private vehicles in the main streets of the city.
Under the second - a reinstating of an old order- vehicles with odd and even numbered plates would only be allowed on the streets on alternate days. This means that only half of the several hundred thousand of private vehicles will be on the streets on any day. The order applies to private vehicles only, but cuts the work involved in screening vehicles approximately in half.

Aside from security concerns, the order also reduces the huge traffic jams caused by the numerous checkpoints. The downside, if any, is being felt mostly by one particular class of Baghdadis: taxi drivers. They can now work only every other day and still have to live with sluggish traffic and expensive fuel.

Still, things are a long way from perfectly peaceful. Bombs continue to disrupt the calm of Baghdad. The suicide bombings carried out by al-Qaeda constitute the largest number of incidents. At the same time there has been a sharp decline in the number of bombings set off by remote control on the part of the regular insurgents.

As we noted in earlier reports, we feel safer about moving around in the city now than we did a month before. I have recently been to districts in Baghdad where a month or two ago I wouldn’t have thought of going to. In the last week or two I’ve showed my ID to soldiers and policemen in checkpoints dozens of times. A few months ago this was considered an extremely risky thing to do — especially for someone whose ID shows a name and profession such as mine. “Omar” is a pure Sunni name and everyone here knows that scores of young Baghdadi men were killed by death squads just because they had the name.

Numbers are always useful in assessing results of any effort, and the numbers so far are on the good guys’ side. I read today that the count of various death squads’ victims for this month is one half that of January, and little more than one third that of December of last year. This comes from the official figures reported by the Baghdad morgue.
The other number that’s become one of the important parameters for assessing the situation in the Baghdad is the number of displaced families that have returned to their homes since the beginning of Operation “Imposing Law.” This one too is giving a positive sign. The last official count by the authorities brought the total to little over 1,020 families in just two weeks according to Baghdad paper al-Mada.

* * * * *

While many Iraqi families are returning to the homes they once were forced to leave, there are also Baghdadis who are reopening their stores, ending the months they spent out of business because of violence and intimidation. Some streets that were virtually deserted a few months ago are slowly showing signs of returning to life.
The reopening stores even include some liquor shops! There are two stores on one street that I used to shop that closed early last year when their owners received death threats from the insurgents and the militias. Yesterday I walked through that street and, to my amazement, I found both stores open and back in business.

Of course the reopening of two liquor stores is no big deal by itself when we are talking about a city where thousands of businesses are still shuttered. I regard this as a further positive sign of a change in Baghdad’s daily life. It means that those shopkeepers are leaving their fear behind, and openly ignoring the threats of militias and insurgents who once ruled the streets and intimidated the people with threats and violence.

The results of Operation “Imposing Law” are not magical. We didn’t expect them to be magical. The commanders didn’t claim they’d be when the Operation began. Still these latest developments are certainly promising. And let’s not forget that what has been achieved so far was achieved while many thousands of the new troops assigned to Baghdad are yet to arrive.